Lasagna for Everyone

Lasagna for Everyone by: Jessica Rooney

Nothing impresses a crowd like homemade lasagna.

Perhaps it’s the easily visible layers, which allow people to see the process of cooking; maybe it’s the picture-perfect golden sheen of the top cheese layer; it might even be the invocation of their mother’s sister’s husband’s daughter-in-law’s mythical recipe.

But, no matter the source of its mysterious universal appeal, vegetarian lasagna is the one of the great crossover dishes gatherings of omnivores can generally agree on. While the traditional-holiday feel to it cannot be over looked, I think that, simply, this phenomenon is due to baked pasta and cheese being so filling and satisfying that an absence of meat is unnoticed, forgiven, or seen as more sophisticated than its sausage-besieged cousins.



But for me, the best part about lasagna is that it is so
easy. The ingredients
are readily available and inexpensive, the whole thing can be made up to a day
ahead without losing freshness before baking, most of the cooking time is passed
by baking, and it is infinitely adaptable.
Sometimes when I put down a pan of steaming lasagna in front of an oohing
and ahhing crowd, I feel like I’ve just performed the greatest culinary magic
trick ever.



For these reasons, I feel that lasagna is the perfect inaugural recipe for this
series. And in light of this week’s article (A Monstrous Vegetable Nightmare),
I’ve listed four different variations of this versatile dish.
As always, in these recipes I put great emphasis on fresh and DIY cooking
– store bought sauces and canned vegetables will bring down the flavor of this
otherwise centerpiece dish. However,
if you’re in a pinch, substitute any of the sauces or ingredients with what you
have on hand: while I don’t suggest it, this is a recipe that can adjust to your
needs.




The Recipe




Servings
:
One 10 x 13 inch pan (roughly 9 medium-sized servings)



Time
:
About 1 ½ hours with prepared pasta and sauces; up to 2 ½ hours otherwise




Ingredients:

See each variation





Directions
:


Lasagna is composed of four components: the lasagna noodles, sauce,
filling, and cheese. Although
the specifics change for each of the variations below, the process will be the
same –


1.


Pre-heat the oven to 400*F and grease a 10 x 13 in pan with olive oil, melted
butter, or cooking spray.


2.


Boil a large pot of water and add 12 dried lasagna noodles.
The pasta should be cooked until they are tender but not quite
al dente – the rest of the cooking
will happen as the juices in the pan heat during baking.


3.


Make the binding sauce (see directions for two variations below).


4.


Layer the lasagna in the following way:


a.


Spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of the pan.


b.


Carefully line up 1/3 of the noodles.


c.


Spread sauce on top.


d.


Cover with 1/2 of the filling.


e.


Sprinkle on 1/3 of the cheese.


f.


Repeat in this order until the last (third, usually) layer, where you will skip
adding the filling, so that the top of the lasagna is covered in cheese.


5.


If needed, the dish can be refrigerated or frozen at this point.
Be sure to defrost carefully before baking.


6.


Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the liquid is bubbling on the sides.
Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.




Directions for the Sauces:




Traditional Tomato


Familiar, delicious, and a perfect addition to cheese.
Almost any additional ingredients can added used here, such as fresh
herbs like dill and thyme, dried herbs like cumin and paprika, even more cheese,
thinly sliced vegetables, capers, ¼ c dry red wine, 1 tsp brown sugar…if it
sounds good to you, give it a try!


Ingredients:

1 T olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves crushed
garlic

¼ c tomato paste
(optional)

800 g can tomatoes

Salt and pepper

Parsley, basil,
and/or oregano to taste

Directions:


1.


Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan at medium-high temperature.
Add the onion and sauté until soft.
Add the garlic and sauté until aromatic, about 1 minute.


2.


(Optional) If you would like a thicker
tomato sauce, add the tomato paste and stir until it covers the onions and
garlic more or less evenly.


3.


Add the tomatoes and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and any other seasoning you
prefer.


4.


Turn down the heat to medium-low and cook until the tomatoes break up and blend
together in a thick (slightly chunky) sauce, stirring occasionally.
This will take about 15 minutes.




Béchamel Sauce


Creamy, delicious – I like to use this sauce when something needs to be
decadent. This is a little trickier
than the Traditional Tomato because the milk/flour/butter combination can burn
to the bottom of the pan in less than a few seconds; luckily, stirring will
protect against this, as long as you’re diligent.


4 T butter

¼
c all-purpose flour

2 to 3 c milk

Salt and pepper

2 eggs, lightly
beaten (optional)


1.


Put the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.
When butter melts, whisk in the flour slowly and steadily.


2.


Like gravy, this recipe needs to be whisked constantly.
Turn the heat to very low and continue to whisk, until the butter turns a
light brown (about 3 minutes)


3.


Slowly and steadily, stir in the milk, while continuing to whisk.
Close to the end of the milk supply, the mixture will turn thick; keep
adding just a little more milk, so that it thins out again.


4.


(Optional)

If you would like a thicker sauce, add the 2 lightly beaten eggs here.
Stir until incorporated, and then proceed to the next step.


5.


Continuing to stir, cook the sauce over slightly higher heat until it reaches
the desired thickness. Sprinkle with
salt and pepper.


6.


(Optional)


If you would like, spread a thin layer of the sauce on the bottom of the pan,
and then add the spinach to the remaining sauce.
Stir gently so that the spinach is completely covered.






The Variations:




The Suspicious Carnivore


Uncle Thomas is coming over, and he doesn’t think any meal’s a meal without at
least 3/4 of the calories devoted to meat.
Luckily, this crowd-friendly lasagna is full of cheese, and the extra
protein and (healthy) fats will satisfy him, perhaps to his own surprise.
This recipe is also a good for children.


Variation


Pasta


Sauce


Cheese


Filling


Notes


The Suspicious Carnivore


12 dried lasagna noodles


Béchamel for an extra-rich dish; Traditional Tomato for a slightly
lighter one.


1 ½ c ricotta


1 ½ c mozzarella


2 c p



After setting ½ c of the parmesan aside, mix the three cheeses together
and use as one “cheese.”



A pinch of nutmeg can also be added here if you would like.


3 c cooked (boiled or steamed) spinach, squeezed dry and chopped; 1
10-oz frozen package is acceptable.



You can use this as its own layer, or stir it into the cheese mixture.


Make sure that the last layer is the parmesan so that the lasagna will
have a nice golden top.



Other cheeses that can be used: swiss, cottage, mozzarella, asiago,
feta.







The Vegetarian Pleaser


With the added color, the variation is definitely the showiest of the bunch.
Hard and soft vegetables are combined here to give the pasta more
texture, flavor, and nutrition; and although I’ve listed several vegetables
below, almost any will work. I
suggest cooking the vegetables first Рwhether you lightly saut̩ them or roast
them in the oven – because this will make the lasagna easier to eat and have a
more complex flavor. If you’d like,
you can add these to the Traditional Tomato sauce by first sautéing the hard
vegetables and then completing the Tradiational Tomato recipe with the soft
vegetables added in at the same time as the tomatoes.
However, raw can also work if very thinly sliced.


Variation


Pasta


Sauce


Cheese


Filling


Notes


The Vegetarian Pleaser


12 dried lasagna noodles


Traditional Tomato


1 ½ c ricotta


1 ½ mozzarella


2 c parmesan



After setting ½ c of the parmesan aside, mix the three cheeses together
and use as one “cheese.”



3 c cooked (boiled or steamed) spinach, squeezed dry and chopped; 1
10-oz frozen package is acceptable.



1 c hard vegetables (like carrots, zucchini, and/or onions).



1 c soft vegetables (like mushrooms, eggplant, and/or summer squash).


Make sure that the last layer is the parmesan so that the lasagna will
have a nice golden top.



Other cooking techniques for the vegetables: broiling, roasting,
grilling, steaming.








The Vegan Surprise


Surprise! Vegans can eat lasagna
too! With a few variations to
replace the cheese, no one has to be left out of the meal.
This is also a good option with anyone trying to watch their
sat/cholesterol/fat intake, or anyone who would like to skip on all the cheese.


Variation


Pasta


Sauce


Cheese


Filling


Notes


The Vegan Surprise


12 dried lasagna noodles (make sure these are no-egg: most store-bought
noodles are, but it’s always good to check).


Traditional Tomato, making sure that it is well-seasoned (a variation
works well here).


4 c silken or soft tofu, pureed. If it comes out thinner than you would
like, add flour to the mix until it reaches the desired thickness;
however, you don’t want this becoming cement-like, so add carefully.



Instead of the Parmesan, use ¼ seasoned bread crumbs for the top layer.



3 c cooked (boiled or steamed) spinach, squeezed dry and chopped; 1
10-oz frozen package is acceptable.
Season the spinach with salt and pepper before using.



Any other vegetables, as in the Vegetarian Pleaser.
Pine nuts can also be mixed into the filling for texture.



Extra herbs are also good to use between the layers, such as basil
leaves and garlic.


The trick with this recipe is in the seasoning!








The Experimenter


So, you’ve made lasagna all your life, and can do the above recipes with your
eyes closed. Now what?
My suggestion, as with all these recipes, is use your tastes and
imagination to bring you new places.
With a careful/knowledgeable pairing of cheeses and fillings, it’s hard to ruin
this dish, so give in to your whims.
To get started, here are two options of the countless available:


Variation


Pasta


Sauce


Cheese


Filling


Notes


The Experimenter


12 dried lasagna noodles



If you have a pasta roller, go ahead and make your own for added
freshness and impressiveness.



Béchamel


1 ½ c Mozzarella


1 ½ c feta


2 c Parmesan


3 c cooked (boiled or steamed) spinach, squeezed dry and chopped; 1
10-oz frozen package is acceptable.



The hearts from 6 large artichokes or about 3 c frozen hearts.



Braise the artichoke hearts by heating lightly with garlic in 3 T of
olive oil. Cook over low
heat and stir occasionally.
When the slices are softened, add ½ c lemon juice and ½ c water to the
pan. Bring to a boil then
cover and reduce the heat to medium-low.
Cook for about 10 minutes, shaking the pan periodically.



Top with pine nuts.



The Experimenter


12 dried lasagna noodles



If you have a pasta roller, go ahead and make your own for added
freshness and impressiveness.



None


2 c ricotta cheese


1/4 c parmesan


1 c mozzarella



Mix ricotta and parmesan together, then add 1/3 c pine nuts, ¾ c fresh
basil, and 2 cloves of crushed garlic.
Keep mozzarella separate.


1 lb of butternut squash or pumpkin.
Cut into thin slices, arrange on a greased baking tray, brush
with oil, and cook for 1 hour or until softened.


The arrangement will be different here.
You will start with 1/3 of the pasta, then all of the ricotta
mixture. Cover with ½ of the
remaining pasta sheets, then arrange the squash as evenly as possible
over the top Season with
salt and pepper and add the final pasta sheets.
Cover with the mozzarella.






Recipes composed by consulting:



Aitken, Helen, ed. “Ricotta Lasagne” and “Pumpkin and Basil Lasagne,” in
Vegetarian Tasty Recipes for Every Day.
Barnes and Noble: New York. 87 and 90.



Bittman, Mark. “Braised Artichoke Hearts,” in
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple
Meatless Recipes for Great Food
. Double B Publishing, Inc. and Wiley
Publishing, Inc.: Hoboken, New Jersey, 2007. 259.



Bittman, Mark. “Vegetable Lasagna” and “11 Vegetable Dishes for Layering in
Lasagna,” in How to Cook Everything
Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food
. Double B Publishing,
Inc. and Wiley Publishing, Inc.: Hoboken, New Jersey, 2007. 459-460.



McIntosh, Susan M., ed. “Four-Cheese Vegetable Lasagna” and “Layered Vegetable
Lasagna,” in Low-Fat Ways to Cook
Vegetarian
. Oxmoor House: Birmingham, Alabama, 1996. 94-95.

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